Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Good enough”

Stepping into the name

This past week I was asked about The Good Enough Pastor twice in separate, unrelated contexts. Funny, while others had taken notice of my blog, I’d nearly forgotten.

I’d like to pass it off as being busy, adapting to a new pastoral position, and the expected adjustment period that any life-change brings. I just haven’t created my new normal.

Then I looked at my site. My last entry was over five months ago.

That feels like a long adjustment stage.

A premise I hold to (and challenge those I counsel) is, “We cannot not communicate.” Everything we do and say conveys a message. As does what we choose not to say.

And, what we avoid doing.

Applying this to my lapse in blogging, the question arose, “What does my absence of writing say? What’s the story behind that?”

The obvious: I’m busy focusing on pastoral tasks. It’s a time- and energy-consuming calling.

Legitimate reasons.

But also superficial.

As I explore more deeply, I acknowledge it has more to do with my anxiety.

Where do I come off with the audacity to think I have anything meaningful to say? Who do I think I am to presume to have original thoughts? Who wants to read what I have to offer?

In short, I’m not good enough.

Hmm. The irony.

Anxiety is pretty sneaky.

In Mark 6, there’s the story of Jesus walking on the water. His disciples are in the boat, struggling to navigate through waves and wind. When the guys see Jesus, they scream out in fear.

“It’s a ghost!”

It’s interesting how distorted their perception is at this point. A ghost is menacing, scary, evil. About as far from the character of Jesus as one can get.

Anxiety does this to us. It’s quite convincing, too.

We become stuck, paralyzed, when in the clutches of anxiety. Inactivity and avoidance are logical strategies to placate our apprehensions.

I recognize it’s not a good idea to diagnose myself, but I’m pretty sure this is why I haven’t posted since November.

At the risk of this going the way of New Year’s resolutions, my goal is to step back into The Good Enough Pastor, and start writing again.

A fraudulent vocation

I recently attended a pastors retreat where the speaker stated, “Ours is a fraudulent vocation.”

That was eye-popping statement. If the speaker didn’t have my attention before, he certainly had me now.

He went on to explain that our fraudulent vocation is rooted in the fact that vocational ministry is always in crisis. We constantly feel the friction of lack of resources, not enough dependable leaders, and people who struggle with their commitments.

Going deeper, our vocational crisis stems from our faith being based on crises. This is true in a general sense. Christ came to save sinners. That’s crisis enough.

But a deeper level, we pastors know our personal faith is a faith of crises. We know our own sin (hopefully we are honest about that). We know our inconsistencies and hypocrisies. We know our inadequacies when it comes to leadership.

I spent substantial portions of my first pastorate fearing people would eventually figure out I was a fraud–that I really didn’t know what I was doing.

I wasn’t trying to deceive people by covering up some heinous sin. Rather I was keenly aware I didn’t know how to fix the problems and challenges presented to me in pastoral ministry.

  • I had no magical answers that would take away the pain of a couple’s deteriorating marriage.
  • I didn’t have any  proven formulas to give parents dealing with rebellious kids.
  • As much as I prayed, I never found effective strategies to reach un-churched people in our community, most of whom had zero interest in our catchy vision statement or ministry slogan.
  • While counseling and encouraging parishioners to live victorious Christian lives, I found I struggled with a lot of the same temptations and challenges as they. I experienced relapses  my thought-life, struggled with basing my sense of worth by my bank account, and had teenage children who bucked my authority and slept through church.

The reality of the fraudulent vocation still nips at my heels. My anxiety surrounding my inadequacy spikes at times.

I am learning to accept that this is the norm, both of ministry vocation and the Christian life in general. Author Jamie Blaine observes, “What people claim corporately and believe privately are two very different things. Everybody’s wrecked behind the scenes. We’re all struggling and faking it somewhere along the way, praying no one finds out how messed up we truly are.”

Furthermore, this is a tenet of New Testament faith. Jesus was clear that he didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners. Paul wasn’t shy in acknowledging that he was chief among sinners. It’s in our weakness that God’s grace and power are at their strongest.

I wonder how much I believe this.

I catch myself measuring my value, worth and meritocracy on how well I behave–how good of a job I do in getting my act together. I grade my pastoral legitimacy on how creatively hip my messages are and how seamless my organizational skills appear.

I find myself resisting my need to rely on grace. While Paul’s words, “I will boast about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” inspire me, as does Henri Nouwen’s phrase “wounded healer,” actually being weak and wounded chafes my ego.

Perhaps that’s the real fraud of how we do our Christian life in general, and ministry in particular.

Shifting our expectations

For the last year or so, economic realities have created the need for me to work full-time to subsidize my ministry. I grow frustrated at times with this arrangement, but I am thankful for the opportunities my “regular” job provides–the chance to be with people in the work force, an income to provide for my family and benefits such as health insurance.

I’ve determined to do some things differently if I ever get the opportunity to return to full-time ministry vocation. For starters, I’ll value peoples time more. I’ve discovered that working a full-time job and a couple of part-timers (a reality for many in our current economic conditions) doesn’t leave much margin to participate in a lot of church activities. A block of time once a week, traditionally Sunday morning, is about as much we can realistically expect.

That said, if we are only going to get that one block, we better make sure it counts. It calls for serious evaluation of what we do with that block of time. Is it allowing us to encounter God? Build real community?

That deserves it’s own conversation.

I also have greater appreciation for those who struggle to cultivate effective, consistent spiritual disciplines. I cut my teeth in an evangelical paradigm that stressed private Bible study and prayer (aka “personal devotions”).

The message was clear. To prove your mettle as a serious Christian, to be a disciple, one had to carve out time every day to read the Bible and pray. Every day. No sacrifice of time and sleep was too much.

However, when folks work 40-50 hours a week, commute a couple of  hours a day, hustle to attend their kids’ activities and try to have any semblance of a healthy marriage, there isn’t much time left to sacrifice.

There often isn’t much mental energy left for reading and prayer, either. I for one struggle with this.

This leaves me wrestling with those assumptions of my formative years. It’s easy to slip into believing that I’m not doing enough, not doing it good enough, and I’m a pretty poor excuse for a “real” Christian.

Thankfully, I shed that kind of thinking several years ago. But I know it torments many sincere followers of Jesus. They’ve told me so.

I blame, at least partially, pastors like the kind I was back in the day. Preaching that people should read their Bibles more and ought pray more leaves few, if any, other options. The result is unintended (or is it intentional?) shame that leaves our people feeling failure no matter how hard they try.

Those of us in full-time vocational ministry often lose perspective of how the bulk of our parishioners live. We get paid to think about church, to pray and to study the Bible. We expect our people to give the same kind of energy to the sacred as we do.

Then we get angry at them when they don’t.

Very few think about church during the week. They are just trying to survive another work week and squeeze time in for the kids. They might pray and read a Bible verse here and there, but it’s far from the ideal quiet time we think they should have.

In reality, they are probably a lot like I am–doing the best I can.

I hope I remember that.

The “both/and” of ministry

I had the privilege this week to present to a group of leaders of a campus ministry. The room was full of up-and-coming talented leaders in their 20’s and 30’s. There were a few of us in our 40’s and 50’s.

The room was full of amazing stories of people who’ve been radically changed by Jesus and who are passionate about using their talents to reach others. I was humbled.

My assignment was to speak about how we manage our “self” in ministry. I covered a variety of issues, ranging from what makes a “self” and how our sense of self impacts others. I explored the importance of learning to recognize and work with the “stuff” of our lives that often surfaces and complicates how our “self” interacts with other “selves” when doing this thing called “ministry.”

I invited these leaders to consider the areas of their lives that might hamstring their ministries. I wasn’t speaking about obvious sin.

My experience teaches me that what most often snags us are those events in life that give us negative, false messages that become our definitions of self. Family of origin patterns, trauma, disappointments and failures carry with them messages that determine what we believe to be true about us. We then live and minister out of those assumptions.

Baxter Kruger calls these beliefs the “I am nots.” They include:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’m not worthy.
  • I’m not adequate.
  • I’m not loved.
  • I’m not loveable.
  • I’m not safe or secure.

These beliefs penetrate and season all aspects of life. Our task is to acknowledge their presence and recognize how they influence the way we relate to others. Failing to do so creates problematic and self-defeating patterns in our ministry.

Unhealed wounds tend to wound others.

While inviting Jesus to work in these areas brings change and hope, I pointed out that some of these beliefs can stick around and challenge us throughout our lifetime. Some of the 20-somethings found this a bit disturbing.

Doesn’t Jesus deliver us from all these self-limiting issues?

Won’t their continued presence keep us from being able to minister effectively?

Paul’s experience indicates that the answer to both questions is “no.”

Like so many areas of life, it’s not an “either/or” proposition, but a “both/and.”

Here’s what Paul says about doing ministry with our weaknesses:

“Even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God . . . to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses . . . for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)


Thought to ponder

Last night I had the privilege to be a part of a church service where Baxter Kruger and Paul Young tag-teamed in giving the message. Paul made a statement I thought appropriate for the “Good Enough” paradigm:

“The opposite of more is enough.”

So often we get caught in the endless wheel of “more.”

  • Do more.
  • Reach more people.
  • Get more offerings.
  • Pray more.
  • Read more.
  • Be more.

More is exhausting.

Grace allows us to relax.

To breathe.

To rest.

To be.

Grace is the beautiful message from God that we don’t have to be or do more.

We’re already enough.

We’re already accepted.

What we have is enough, for they are his gifts.

Earthen vessels

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

So writes Paul as he describes the apparent contradictions that he discovered in ministry. He was weak, afflicted, perplexed, struck down, and acutely identified with the dying of Jesus (see the following verses). Life wasn’t go so well.

Yet, the message he preached was having an amazing impact on his hearers. Astounding blessings and breakthroughs were taking place in their lives–all while he wrestled with pain, setbacks and discouragement.

Such is the paradox of ministry.

I had a taste of that this past Sunday. I had the privilege to minister the word in the church I serve as a pastoral caregiver.

I certainly didn’t feel on my A-game. The days leading into Sunday were marked by confusion about my sense of calling and belonging in this thing called church. My doubts seemed locked onto the goal of convincing me I was making no impact and had no future.

Unlike Paul, I was perplexed AND despairing (see v. 8).

My assigned topic was the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4). I was tempted to see it as a waste of the congregation’s time. I held little expectation as I stepped in front of them.

But God seemed to show up.

After the service, several caught me on the way out and reported that the message was quite helpful. It offered them a fresh and useful perspective on Jesus’ temptations.

That was nice. I appreciated the kind feedback.

But later that evening I received this text from our senior pastor:

“A guy from church met with me tonight. He’d been trying to do church and get past his past on his own. The more he contemplated the message this morning the more he realized how his past wounds and failures were ‘kicking his ***’ as he put it. Tonight we prayed that God would forgive his past and show him how to forgive those who have hurt him. And to give him eternal life.”

I was blown away. I blinked back tears as I read the text to my wife.

I don’t understand the ways of God.

Perspective on being “good enough”

Hal Runkel, in his excellent resource on parenting Scream Free Parenting, shares the following perspective:

“The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”   -Jill Churchill, O Magazine, May 2003

“Every now and again we talk with people who say something along these lines, ‘I get what you’re advocating. I just don’t think I can do it all the time.’ To which I say, welcome to the club. No one can. That’s not what ScreamFree Parenting is all about. If we get caught in the trap of thinking that we have to be perfect in order to be ScreamFree, then we’re missing the whole point.

“The point is to work consciously on growing yourself up, and that’s a process, not a product. Simply put, there is no such thing as perfect parenting. By beating yourself up for not being “perfectly ScreamFree”, you are limiting yourself and what you are capable of. Remember, doing something in the right direction is always better than giving up and doing nothing. Give yourself a break and know that just reading this tip today is “something” and in some small way, both your kids and you will benefit.”

What Hal says about ScreamFree, can be said of pastoring. It’s not about doing it perfectly.

Those who pressure themselves to be perfect tend to be hard to work with, are often angry at their church for not cooperating, beat themselves (and their parishioners) up, and are prone to allow discouragement overwhelm them.

They typically don’t finish well.

Rather than perfection, a much more effective and healthy goal is, as Runkel states, “to work on growing yourself up.” We can be content with being in the process.

What Churchill says about parents can be said of pastors. There is no way to be a perfect pastor. There are a million ways to be a good one.

What is this “Good Enough Pastor” schtick?

The concept, “Good Enough Pastor,” incorporates several ideas and applications. I adapted the phrase from Donald Winnicott’s concept of the “good enough mother.” Winnicott was an influential figure in the development of object relations theory.

In psychodynamic theory, focus is placed on the role of mothers in the developing psyche of a child. Object relations theory looks at this relationship between mother and child, and the developmental need for the child and mother to differentiate from each other.

One of the difficulties that occurs in this process is when a mother over-identifies with the child and assume too much responsibility for the child’s welfare. A couple of problems can result. One, the pressure of perfectionism. The mother believes that the child’s well-being and her own sense of self demands that she be a perfect mother. The belief that one must be perfect is fraught will all sorts of conflicting tensions and destructive assumptions. Two, the mother can take on too much responsibility and over-function on behalf of the child. The mother is not able to allow her child to go through normal struggles, pain and failure necessary for autonomy and growth. In her effort to protect and help, she actually ends up stunting growth and creating that which she fears most–anger, resentment and rejection from her child.

Winnicott’s concept captures the tension of good mothering. She strives to provide adequate nurture and care, at the same time refrains from over-functioning. She is dependable, responsive, protective, supportive and helpful. Yet she doesn’t do everything for the child and doesn’t shield the child from all challenges and pain.

Further, the mother is released from the unrealistic demands of perfectionism. She is free to embrace her own humanity. She no longer has to be perfect, but can relax with being “good enough.” Ironically, her effectiveness as a mother increases as she lets go of her striving for perfection.

The implications and applications for pastors are many. I believe they are also liberating. Too often pastors labor under the unforgiving pressure to be perfect. Ministry tends to attract perfectionists. Churches and denominations overtly and covertly demand perfection. For all our rhetoric about grace, our church system is often more performance-driven and shame-based than we like to admit.

Pastors often over-function with their congregations. They assume more responsibility for their flock than is reasonable and healthy. This can be self-driven, and congregations often demand it. It’s a lethal combination. Pastor and congregation both suffer in the end.

So my question: “What would happen if we could relax and shift our focus and goal to be the ‘good enough’ pastor? What does the good enough pastor look like? How would this change the way we do ministry? How would this change the pastor-congregation relationship?”

Method Says More Than Content

How we communicate is just as important as what we communicate. Actually,  more so.

In other words, the way we convey our message says as much or more as the words of our message. Method trumps content.

The other day, our church had one of those awkward silent moments in the service. There was a mix-up in how the sermon was to progress, and we stumbled along as we got back on track.

In discussing the incident with a friend, he recalled being asked to present his missions project to a large church that televised their services. Every detail of the service was rehearsed beforehand. They meticulously timed each segment to fit the hour slot. No deviations allowed. The program was to be slick and tight,

Our guffaw would not have been tolerated.

Thankfully, ours is a small congregation. We have the luxury to make mistakes in our service.

The fact that we’re allowed to have glitches says volumes. Perhaps the aforementioned mega-church’s zero-tolerance for mistakes in their service says even more.

What do we communicate about Christianity when our Sunday services have to be perfect? When every detail is choreographed? When the speaker is clever, polished and buff? When the music must be studio-perfect and usually performed by attractive,  hip artists?  When the service order and production clicks along without a hitch?

I fear the message that God loves losers and mess-ups and has plenty of grace for our mistakes is lost.

We can say those words all we want, but if our delivery methods consist of picture-perfect messengers and overly-polished productions, the congregation isn’t going to believe our words.

The ones on the stage have it all together.

They never make mistakes.

They always know exactly what to say and what to do.

They’re never off-pitch.

They’re obviously successful.

Christianity must be for those who have it all together.

I obviously don’t cut it.

Maybe when I do life better, God might let me on the inside.

Until then, I’ll keep quiet about my junk. I’ll try my hardest to fake it and convince everyone here I’m doing fine.

Our method is incongruous with our content.

One metaphor we use for church is the family of God.

How many families always have perfect productions? What family doesn’t have messes? Don’t parents and kids botch things up? Meals get burnt. Beds go unmade. Kids throw up at the most inopportune times. Mom and dad argue.

When families have to look picture-perfect and live life on cue, you end up with eating disorders, cutting, and obsessive habits. Family members end up in long-term therapy.

The message of grace, forgiveness, unconditional love and hope (the message of the Gospel) comes through most clearly in the middle of imperfections, mistakes and faults.

The awkward silence and mess-up in our service demonstrated and spoke more about God than whatever the sermon was about. It said more about the wonder of grace than any of the worship songs did.

The “I’m-Not-Good-Enough” Syndrome

I came across blogger Jessica Chilton and a post she wrote on “Good Enough.” Here’s an excerpt:

“This notion of ‘not being good enough’ is so pervasive in our society. It is so common for women to have thoughts like:

‘I’m not skinny enough.’

‘I’m not successful enough.’

‘I’m not pretty enough.’

‘I’m not brave enough.’

‘I’m not strong enough.'”

The pervasive nature of “not being good enough” is not limited to women. It saturates our culture. We live in a shame-based world that tells us all we’re not good enough.

Unfortunately, the church is not immune. While preaching and promoting grace, the church system often create its own version of “not being good enough.”

Chilton’s list for women raises a couple of questions.

  • What is the Christian’s list of “not being good enough?”
  • What is the pastor’s list?

More importantly, what if we were to discover that God doesn’t create or maintain such a list? What if His message is just the opposite–“you are good enough”?

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